Under COVID Cloud, Prisons In Rural America Threaten To Choke Rural Hospitals

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Montana, it spread into the Marias Heritage Center assisted living facility, then flowed into the nearby 21-bed hospital.

Toole County quickly became the state’s hot spot for COVID-19 deaths, with more than four times the infection rate of all other counties and the most recorded deaths in the state. Six of the state’s 16 COVID deaths through Tuesday have occurred here.

But another danger loomed: What if it got into the prison, less than 4 miles away from the hospital and assisted living facility? The county was nearly overwhelmed as it was. Across rural America, prisons and jails sit in places like Toole County that have minimal intensive care unit beds and ventilators and few additional medical resources. Many hospitals there were strained before the pandemic.

This rural, 5,000-person county tucked under the Canadian border might not have seemed like a breeding ground for

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When Prisons Are ‘Petri Dishes,’ Inmates Can’t Guard Against COVID-19, They Say

On April 6, an inmate named Dennis stayed up late at Indiana’s Plainfield Correctional Facility. He wrote to his wife, Lisa, and told her he was scared.

“I can tell you right now, with nearly 100% certainty, that I am going to get this virus,” he wrote. Lisa said Dennis suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which could cause complications if he contracts COVID-19. (KHN agreed to omit their last names because they fear retaliation from prison staff.)

“I just need you to know how sorry I am for not being there … during these scary uncertain times,” Dennis wrote to his wife. He was sent to prison a year ago for theft, driving on a suspended license and resisting arrest. His earliest

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Jails And Prisons Spring Thousands To Prevent Coronavirus Outbreaks

Terry Smith, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran with PTSD, multiple health issues and a history of homelessness, spent nearly three years in San Francisco County Jail awaiting trial on a burglary charge. The final several weeks were served in the full flush of a burgeoning viral pandemic.

He considers himself lucky.

“I’m out, and I had a place to go,” Smith said in a telephone interview with Kaiser Health News from the halfway house where he lives. “If you’re in there, you’re just in a breeding ground for infection — and this coronavirus is no game.”

In fact, the jail where Smith was held has profoundly thinned its population, part of a dramatic release of inmates from California prisons and jails aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, which can race through institutional populations with deadly impact.

Outbreaks have

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